The PM has given what looks to be the clearest hint of proposed changes to the law to guarantee that ethnic minorities are elected president from time to time.
In an interview on race and politics with MediaCorp over the weekend, he said that a special provision may need to be used if there hasn’t been a president of a particular race for a long time.
Through the use of this special provision, the next election could be reserved for a member of that community if a qualified candidate presents himself or herself.
The PM said:
“You want a mechanism where, if you’ve had a long gap, then the next election – if you have a qualified minority candidate – is held only amongst a minority group. And so you will be able to get a Malay or an Indian president. But if, for some reason, no qualified minority candidate presented himself or herself, then an open election would be held and “whoever wins, wins”.
Mr Lee was answering a question on how proposals by a Constitutional Commission to ensure minorities can be elected president, set to be published this week, would work.
He added that minority candidates will find it hard to be elected under the current system, and the proposed changes are not tokenism.
“It is a very necessary symbolism of what we are as a multiracial society – what Singapore means, stands for and what we aspire to be.”
Mr Lee said he didn’t not think a minority candidate would have a fair chance in a tense election like that in 2011 when there was a fight between the 4 Tans – Tan Jee Say, Tan Cheng Bock, Tan Kin Lian and of course, Tony who eventually won by a whisker.
At this year’s National Day Rally, the PM was speaking on the need for presidents from all races so minorities can feel represented when he collapsed.
There has not been a Malay president since Mr Yusof Ishak held the post from 1965 to 1970.
Our last Indian president, Mr S R Nathan, was elected unopposed over two terms in 1998.